I watched a video last Thursday which blew me away, and then over Shabbat I read a book which repeated the same information. What was astonishing for me was that this was such a fundamental piece of information that I had never known about and here I was learning about it twice in three days from two different sources.
What am I talking about? Water. I love water – it is my drink of choice, I go through gallons of the stuff every day.
So what was the video I watched? It was from the BBC ideas section and it was entitled ‘Water, probably the strangest thing in the universe – here is why’ my interest was piqued – so I watched the video.
Things I learnt (quoted from the clip):
1. All of the water on earth is alien – water arrived from asteroids and comets from space.
2. Water does not follow the normal rules of chemistry. It shouldn’t really be a liquid on our planet. It is made from Hydrogen and Oxygen and at the temperatures and pressure on the surface of the earth – rules of chemistry say that water should be a gas – if it was a gas, there would be no life on earth.
3. And unlike any other chemical when water freezes – it expands and is less dense than the liquid form – which is why ice floats on water. If ice was heavier than water, whenever it froze, it would sink to the bottom, and eventually, since the top layer would insulate the ice, virtually the entire body of water would freeze solid. Lakes, rivers, and perhaps even oceans would mostly freeze solid – there would be no life on earth.
4. Hot water freezes faster than cold – no one knows why.
5. Water molecules can float upwards against the force of gravity- that is because they love to stick to each other – they can actually pull each other up through tiny channels – such as our blood vessels in our body – that is how oxygen and nutrients reach the edges of your brain.
6.The same process called capillary action allows plants to move water from deep below the ground to nourish the leaves and branches that grow in the sunshine.
7. It breaks so many rules of chemistry that scientists struggle to understand it – but without its rebel behaviour none of us, not our world would exist.
Absolutely remarkable. What was also remarkable is nowhere in the book or the video did they even reflect that this incredible freak of nature that allows life to exist could have something to do with the Creator of the Universe.
As Rabbi Sacks said in his book, radical then, radical now “In the beginning people believed in many gods. Monotheism came and reduced them to one. Science came and reduced them to none. ” This is not to denigrate the huge importance of science but we strongly believe in both Science and Torah.
To quote Rabbi Sacks again: “Science is about explanation. Religion is about meaning. Science analyses, religion integrates. Science breaks things down to their component parts. Religion binds people together in relationships of trust. Science tells us what is. Religion tells us what ought to be.”
Yes, it could all be a complete coincidence that water has all these nature defying properties and because of this – life exists and continues to exist on earth. Or it could be part of the way Hashem created the universe for us to eventually discover these properties and declare in gratitude and amazement ‘Mah Rabu Maasecha Hashem Kulam Bechachmah Asita Malah Haaretz Kinyanecha – How great/many are Your deeds Hashem, All of them You have made with wisdom – the earth is full of Your creations. (Psalms 104:24)
However, the whole area got me thinking in another way.
The Gemara in Bava Kamma states that ‘Ein Mayim elah Torah’ Water is Torah – as it states ‘all who are thirsty, go to water’ (Isiah 55:1) meaning go drink from the fountains of Torah wisdom.
If we look at the remarkable scientific anomalies of water – we can see the same ‘anomalies’ in Torah and the Jewish people.
All of the water on earth is alien – water arrived from asteroids and comets from space – Torah came from Hashem, an infinite being – it is other-worldly. We say Torah min hashamayim, Torah from the heavens. It now lives and breathes in our physical world but its origin was Divine.
Water does not follow the normal rules of chemistry. The Jewish people do not follow the normal rules of history. As Mark Twain famously said about our unnatural survival. ‘The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” We shouldn’t still exist – but we do. Our secret – our devotion to Hashem and His Torah.
Water molecules can float upwards against the force of gravity- that is because they love to stick to each other. Another two properties of our nation and Torah. First our ability to go against the flow, it started with Avraham and has continued for millennia. The Torah commands us to live by and for a different set of values and as a result we have always been called on to have the courage to be different. The other property of Torah is the creation of community and halachot that keep us together, a unique nation wherever or whenever we found ourselves in history – do we love to stick to each other? – we may not always love – but we do stick together!
It is the final statement of the clip that is the most powerful – we just need to rewrite it.
It breaks so many rules of chemistry that scientists struggle to understand it – but without its rebel behaviour none of us, not our world would exist.
Torah and the Jewish people break so many rules of history that historians struggle to understand them– but without their rebel behaviour none of us, not our world would exist.
Or as was said similarly 1500 years ago in the Medrash Tanchuma “The existence of the Torah is a necessary condition for the existence of the cosmos.”
So when you have a cool clear glass of water this Shabbat pause and think about the incredible creation by Hashem that allows us to live and also reflect on yourself and our Torah which also allows us to live.
Ki hem chayenu v’orech yameinu u’va’hem negeh yomam va’laila. For they are our life and the length of our days, and we will meditate on them day and night.